Universe Column for January 2002
By David Alton
One of the advantages of young children is that they provide the perfect alibi for going to see films that you might have no good excuse to go and see.
Over Christmas my family joined the millions of others who have made Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Lord of the Rings record breaking box office hits.
As we left Lord of the Rings I heard one child asking his parent “but what happens next?” As the second and third parts of the Tolkien trilogy will not be released until Christmas 2002 and Christmas 2003 he will have to read the book if he wants to find out.
Although these films are undoubtedly stunning adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter story and Tolkien’s epic, the films are best seen once the books have been read. Children’s imaginations vividly conjure up scenes like Harry Potter’s game of Quidditch in a way that even the most sophisticated computer technology doesn’t quite bring off.
It would be the greatest achievement of these films if they get children reading again.
J.K. Rowling has been criticised for introducing children to wizards and witchcraft – but so did C.S. Lewis in the Narnian Chronicles. Although she is not a Christian apologist like Lewis, Rowling has made it clear: “I believe in God, not magic.”
Tolkien’s epic is one long trial of strength between deadly forces pitted against one another. Gandalf’s wizardry is brave and self-sacrificing, and at the service of a Deity. Not for nothing did Tolkien describe his work as “Catholic allegory.”
This is not to say that we should have no concern with the books currently being offered to our children. One Sunday newspaper recently advised a parent who was rejoicing that her son had started reading avidly thanks to Harry Potter, to buy him Philip Pullman’s books.
But contrast the parables within Lord of the Rings – or the moral of the Harry Potter story – with the story line of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy which is currently winning all the prizes for children’s literature.
In The Amber Spyglass – the third book in the trilogy – Pullman kills off God (“the ancient of days”) and replaces Christ as saviour with Will and Lyra, who represent a new man and Mother Earth. In the earlier The Subtle Knife (ital) a nun turned physicist gives up giving “glory to God when I saw there wasn’t any God at all and that physics was more interesting anyway.” Heroism for Pullman consists of overthrowing a tyrannical God, obscuring and acquiring for others Christ’s redemptive act, and eliminating His Church. Give me Hogwarts, Hobbits or Narnia any day.
Aristotle said that no wise parent would entrust his children to a foolish storyteller.
Parents need to understand what their children are reading and viewing. They need to discuss it with them and help them to detect hidden agendas and to interpret what truths or deceits the writer is trying to convey.